McGill's & Alexander Dennis
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Alexander Dennis & Lothian
Buses on Parade
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Alexander Dennis at Euro Bus Expo 2018
Just over two months ago I reviewed the new Endeavour Hills bus network. It's quite a rare thing, being a review of bus services in an established area. The general conclusion is that reforms could have gone further (eg like this) but it represents a worthwhile improvement over what runs today. For example it provides improved access to Dandenong Hospital and TAFE, there are (generally) longer operating hours and frequencies are better. It's also quite a cost-effective network change with many of the resources of the improved frequencies coming from a reduction in the number of Dandenong - Endeavour Hills routes from four to three.
The new network starts at the end of this month. Timetables and maps (also reproduced below) are on the PTV website.
Department of Transport's service standards
The Department of Transport (DoT) is the state government management and planning agency for train, tram and bus services in Victoria. It oversees contracts with operators and plans new routes. While it doesn't directly schedule the times of every train, tram and bus in Melbourne, it produces specification documents for timetables, especially if they are for new or amended bus routes. These specifications cover matters such as operating days, operating hours, frequencies, connections with trains and public holiday services. Bus companies (or specialists engaged by them) draw up timetables that meet these specifications with the DoT meant to check compliance before approving them.
The biggest change to what runs when came in 2006 with Minister Batchelor's Meeting Our Transport Challenges plan. This set minimum service standards for buses. These included a service every 60 minutes or better between the following hours.
Mon - Fri: 6am - 9pm
Sat: 8am - 9pm
Sun: 9am - 9pm
Public holidays: Saturday timetable applies except Good Friday & Christmas Day (Sunday timetable).
These upgrades were important because, with their archaic 7pm weekday and 1pm Saturday finish times, most buses did not run when people needed them. You can see the state of play in early 2006, before MOTC was released, here. Substantial improvements had been made by 2008 as per this count. In addition new bus routes, introduced as part of the local area bus reviews then going on, would almost all operate to minimum standards.
The minimum standards program was a great success. Along with the new SmartBuses it made the network more useful. Patronage rose about as much as service (about 25% in a few years). That was a good result given that the local network reviews of the time did not always attack instances of inefficiency and duplicative routes.
The above operating hours weren't perfect but they made buses more useful for many more trips. Their main remaining shortcoming was the late start on weekends. Often people want to reach their destinations before the buses have started. It is not uncommon for the heaviest used Sunday trip on a route to be the first service, indicating likely high demand for an earlier start. The institutional bias against good early weekend morning services afflicts both trains with their limited frequencies and buses with their late starts, especially on Sundays. The problem was made worse because MOTC's standards were unevenly interpreted by operators, with Sita and Moorabbin Transit (eg 472 and 825) opting for a late start/late finish pattern despite less Sunday demand at 10pm than 9am.
The Department wised up to this about 5 or 6 years ago, at least for new routes. Instead of starting at 8 and 9 am Saturday and Sunday new routes would start at a more useful 7 and 8 am. You can see this if you look at timetables for newly reviewed areas like Werribee, Epping North, Cranbourne and Doreen area and some new routes like 627 and 760 with the 863 (also serving Endeavour Hills) being an exception. Bear these comments in mind when you read what follows.
The new Endeavour Hills timetables
The new timetables are a big improvement on the infrequent service that previously ran. But are they up to the standards of other new routes? This is what I'll discuss here.
The 843/845 combined corridor
Currently all four Dandenong - Endeavour Hills routes run via Doveton before turning north. These provide 6 buses per hour interpeak with each route every 40 minutes. The new network, with two routes every 30 minutes, reduces this to 4 buses per hour on weekdays over the common section. This frequency also operates on Saturdays with 3 buses per hour on Sunday.
The Monday to Saturday services could either be evenly offset to maximise frequency to Dandenong (an even 15 minutes) or offset unevenly by 10 and 20 minutes to provide a predictable connection with trains (10 minute basic service). It's simpler for most of the day on Sundays where a combined 20 minute service could connect evenly with every second train.
What was done? Weekday and Saturday midday combined timetables have roughly 10 and 20 minute offsets. As noted above this ensures more even connections with trains but detracts from the possibility of having an even 15 minute corridor. The latter could be considered 'turn up and go' by some and is the better option for those finishing their trip at Dandenong or changing to a SmartBus (which has a 15/30 min service pattern). Changes to or from other bus routes would also on average be better due to the shorter maximum waits that an even 15 minute service would provide. To summarise,
I can see why a 10/20 min offset was thought desirable (for train connectivity) but my guess is that most passengers travelling during the interpeak would have preferred the even 15 minute frequency. The problem doesn't arise for most of the day on Sunday. There the two 40 minute routes have been almost perfectly offset to provide a combined 20 minute service.
Early finishes on weekends
Now to something you can't argue with. The new timetables do not meet the 2006 minimum service standards for a 9pm finish on weekend evenings. And it's not for a lack of funding either.
The last departures from Dandenong for Route 845 are 8:35pm on Saturday and 8:15 pm on Sunday. Route 843 more than meets the standard on Saturday with a 9:31pm departure. However its last Sunday trip is even earlier at 8:01pm which does not meet the standard. The last new Saturday inbound trips are all earlier than the current timetable that has an inbound 845 departure at 10:00 pm arriving Dandenong at 10:32pm.
The other thing to be aware of is that Saturday times are unevenly offset with two buses sometimes meeting the one train. For example both routes depart within a few minutes of each other from 8:01 and 8:31pm. Note that the 843 has a 30 minute service until last bus despite its early Sunday finish.
The Department of Transport audit of the draft timetables should have detected these early finishes and almost simultaneous departures so they could be fixed before going public. A possible cost-effective solution could have been to drop the weekend evening frequency of both routes to hourly with departures offset by 30 minutes until the last trips at approximately 9:05 and 9:35pm. The route with the most unique coverage or patronage potential should operate the last trip.
What about 861 from the TAFE and hospital? This too isn't up to scratch. Its last departure from Dandenong is 8:43pm on weekdays and 8:06pm on weekends. The departure before that on weekends is 7:41pm. Delaying the last weekend departure to connect with the 8:26pm train (ie approx 8:35pm departure) would have brought it closer to minimum standards.
Good operating spans are particularly important in places like Endeavour Hills which is remote from alternative transport with longer hours such as trains and SmartBuses. 843 and 845 also serve parts of Doveton which contain many people on low incomes less able to run cars or afford taxis.
Late starts on weekends
For a while it looked as if DoT 'got it' with regards to the need for earlier weekend start times. However they've dropped the ball on Endeavour Hills. While the starts of the new routes are better than what's there now, they are still too late, in some cases not even meeting the original 2006 standards.
As an example the first Saturday 843 arrives at Dandenong at 8:41am. This compares with 7:56am for the first 845 and 8:26am for the first 861. Those getting the first 843 would be unable to get to anything in the CBD much before 9:30am on a Saturday.
On Sundays the sequence is 9:06 (843), 9:23 (861) and 9:26 (845). You could argue that these meet the 2006 standards (depending on how you interpret them). However they do not meet more recent planning practice of 8am starts. Because Dandenong trains operate every 30 minutes on Sunday mornings, a way to deliver earlier Sunday starts could be to lengthen morning headways to hourly to provide an earlier start. It would be desirable for the first 843 or 845 to connect with the 8:41 (or preferably the 8:11) am train at Dandenong with a half-hourly offset until the combined 20 minute service kicks in later in the morning.
The need for the revised start time is demonstrated by the high patronage often on the first bus of the day on Sundays. Weekend bus start times are a particular issue for people needing to get to casual jobs at big shopping centres etc.
The new Endeavour Hills routes operate to the standard public holidays pattern. The occasional and unloved Route 842 to Fountain Gate finally gets an upgrade to hourly interpeak. As a weekday only service it never operates on public holidays (not even during the Boxing Day sales).
However the powers that be have yet to get the communication of this right with a cryptic note on 842's website timetable (and likely also at stops when these get installed soon).
The Department of Transport used to be fairly good at introducing bus routes that met minimum service standards. Unfortunately this example with Endeavour Hills demonstrates that internal processes to ensure a good result each time may not exist. Whether it's an inadequate service specification or insufficient review of submitted timetables, the result is a substandard bus network that does not operate over the time spans that people need.
You might enjoy these well-regarded books on transport topics
Breaking Point: The Future of Australian Cities
The Public City: Essays in honour of Paul Mees
Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age Paul Mees
(Sales links: I get a small commission if you buy via the above - no extra cost to you)
This item was written by Peter Parker http://www.melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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